NJCAA DI World Series: Preview


By Andy Sroka
Illinois and Wisconsin Assistant Director

The 2021 NJCAA World Series is upon us, as we’re days away from its first pitches across all three divisions. Here on the PBR JUCO Wire, we’ll be previewing the Division I and Division II brackets ahead of the tournament’s first day of action on May 29.

The DI World Series is set for May 29 through June 4/5 in Grand Junction, Colo., where the top four seeds are as follows: No. 1 Crowder, No. 2 Walters State, No. 3 San Jacinto-North, No. 4 McLennan.

The DII World Series is set for May 29 through June 2 in Enid, Okla., where the top four seeds are as follows: No. 1 LSU Eunice, No. 2 Lincoln Land, No. 3 Western Oklahoma State, and No. 4 Kellogg.

NO. 7 FLORENCE-DARLINGTON TECH VS. NO. 4 MCLENNAN

+ No. 7 Florence-Darlington Tech (SC) (46-6; East Champion): The Stingers are prepping for Grand Junction for the second time in program history, and first since 2017. After a 15-3 trip through their conference, Flo-Dar won all three of its Region X games buoyed by one of the top offenses in the country and an experienced pitching staff. This squad hit .352 as a team with 68 home runs to power their trip to the World Series, and they’re also striking out nearly 12 batters a game as a staff. And as successful as this starting staff has been as a unit, Flo-Dar has started 12 different pitchers, showcasing the depth inside the rotation.

RHP Nathan Williams (North Cobb, GA; freshman) was named the Region X Pitcher of the Year, notching 75 strikeouts in 48.1 innings this season, against just 18 walks and an ERA of 2.61. Sophomore RHP Hunter Parks (York Comprehensive, SC) is one of the most talented JUCO prospects in the country, committed to South Carolina. He struck out 54 in 38.2 innings this year, and has a 1.63 ERA to go along with it, making up one of the top one-two punches headed to Grand Junction this weekend.

Offensively, the Stingers are led by sophomores C J.T. Marr (Fort Mill, SC) and INF Scott McDonough (Godwin, VA). Marr is hitting a team-high .462 with nine homers and 16 doubles in 132 at-bats, which translates to a .818 slugging percentage. McDonough, meanwhile, leads the team with 14 homers; he’s committed to Virginia Tech.

+ No. 4 McLennan (TX) (42-16; Southwest Champion): For the seventh time in program history, the McLennan Highlanders are headed to the NJCAA World Series, in search of their first title since 1983. This time around, McLennan’s the No. 4 seed in the DI tournament, also in the midst of an 18-game win streak. The Highlanders are also rostering three All-Region players: RHP Logan Henderson (Cinco Ranch, TX; freshman), C Dominic Tamez (Ladybird Johnson, TX; freshman), and INF Garrett Martin (Standley Lake, CO; sophomore). 

Henderson’s a Texas A&M recruit and staff ace, who’s groomed a 1.87 ERA in 81.2 innings this season, and his 138 Ks leads the nation. Four players on McLennan have double-digit homer totals, and Tamez is among them. He has 11 in 2021, with 56 RBIs and a team-high .372 average. Martin is among the most productive players in the country, slugging .755 in 200 at-bats this season, courtesy of 19 home runs that’s generated 64 RBIs. Infielders Miguel Santos (Colleyville Heritage, TX; freshman) and Miguel Santos (Centennial, TX; freshman) are the two others on the roster slugging .600. Santos has registered 20 doubles, five triples, and 11 homers this spring – and he’s only struck out 22 times in 240 at-bats – while Greer is second on the team with 15 homers and 58 RBIs.

NO. 10 INDIAN HILLS VS. NO. 1 CROWDER

+ No. 10 Indian Hills (IA) (43-13-1; Midwest Champion): Plucky Indian Hills took on Midwest JUCO powerhouses Iowa Western in the Region XI championship game and top-ranked Wabash Valley to earn the Region XI and District titles en route to a berth inside the DI World Series. And on top of that, the Warriors actually dropped their first games against both teams, meaning they needed two straight wins against each to move on – yet, here they are.

Freshman OF Ren Tachioka (Japan; freshman) is the table-setter and team catalyst, as he’s hitting .362 this spring from the top of the order, with 34 walks. He’s also stolen 31 bases and collected 12 doubles and four homers to add to his production. Freshman INF Noel Perez (Otay Ranch, CA) is another offensive leader, with a team-high seven homers and 49 RBIs, hitting .324 this season.

With that said, Indian Hills is led by its pitching staff, namely RHP Maddux Hoaglund (Cadillac, MI; freshman), RHP Nick Marshall (Antigo, WI; sophomore), and RHP Wyatt Wendell (Rock Canyon, CO; sophomore). Hoaglund leads all starters in most categories, like innings (68.2) and strikeouts (83), and he is maintaining the lowest ERA of these three, at 2.36. Marshall and Wendell both have 70 Ks in a similar workload, over 60 innings pitched. 

Coincidentally, there isn’t a single player from Iowa on this Iowa JUCO’s roster. These players have gelled from across the world, really, with international representation from Canada, Dominican Republic, Japan, Puerto Rico, Netherlands, Venezuela, and even France.

+ No. 1 Crowder (MO) (52-6; South Central Champion): The Roughriders have been considered among the top DI programs in the country this season, pretty much for its entire duration, but to see them as the top-seeded team at the World Series comes as a bit of surprise, considering the upsets that befell the likes of both Wabash Valley and Iowa Western. Regardless, Crowder’s happy to swoop into Grand Junction as the No. 1 seed, with momentum attached to an 11-game win streak. They’ve not allowed more than five runs in a game this month, and they’ve scored 10 or more six times over that same stretch.

Crowder’s offense is prolific, as they’re among the nation’s leaders in a multitude of categories as a team. They’re hitting .353 as a unit this year, reaching at a .477 clip, and slugging .652 with a whopping 110 team home runs. Freshmen INF Logan Chambers (Bryant, AR), OF Landrey Wilkerson (Van Buren, AR), and INF Josh Patrick (Truman, MO) are responsible for most of the damage, tallying 47 home runs combined. Chambers is slugging .754 with 14 homers and 35 doubles, producing 65 RBIs. Wilkerson is an RBI ahead on Chambers for the team lead, with 16 homers in 58 games, in addition to 51 walks that’s earned him an OBP of .510. Patrick’s 17 homers are a team-high, meanwhile. Sophomore OF Rod Criss (Staley, MO) and freshman INF Frankie Circello (Staley, MO) have recorded 11 and 12 homers on the year, respectively, to contribute to this team’s historic firepower.

On the mound, freshman RHP James Hicks (Conway, AR) is the team’s go-to arm, with 82 Ks in 81.1 innings, with a 3.43 ERA. LHP Kaleb Hill (Watson Chapel, AR; sophomore) has 77 Ks in 68.2 innings, with a 2.88 ERA in 13 appearances (12 starts). High-leverage freshman reliever, RHP Conner Floyd (Lifeway Christian, AR), has been an ace ‘pen arm, with 46 punch-outs in 26 innings this spring, and he’s allowed only two runs and 12 hits in that time.

NO. 9 SHELTON STATE VS. NO. 2 WALTERS STATE

+ No. 9 Shelton State (AL) (39-15; South Champion): Shelton State scored a couple big upsets on their way to the World Series, with District wins over Chattahoochee Valley and Wallace-Dothan to get there. After dropping their first game against Wallace 12-0, the Bucs’ offense scored 47 runs in their next three games, one against CVCC and cruising to its two must-wins against Wallace-Dothan, to land this spot in Grand Junction.

Starters RHP Garrett McMillan (Hillcrest, AL; freshman) and RHP Jackson Reynolds (Opelika, AL; sophomore) operate as this team’s one-two punch atop its rotation. McMillan is 11-0 in 2021, thus far, with 74 strikeouts in 65 innings, with a 2.08 ERA. Reynolds, an Auburn transfer, has a 2.42 ERA in 74.1 innings, with 77 Ks.

Sophomore C/OF Colby Smelley (Hillcrest, AL) is the Bucs’ offensive generator, with a team-high .435 average that’s helped him earn 44 RBIs, with 15 doubles and seven homers, and he’s walked more than he’s struck out (29:22). Freshmen INF Drake Logan (Pine Creek, CO) and Griffin Eldridge (Hillcrest, AL) are a pair more of the team’s top bats; Logan has driven in 43 runs and Eldridge is hitting .402, and has K’d just 19 times in 127 at-bats.

+ No. 2 Walters State (TN) (60-5; Appalachian Champion): The Senators are rostering one of the most talented teams in the state, and we’ve known that for quite some time. It translated directly into wins, too, as Walters State won 60 of its 65 games this season. They actually lost fewer games in 2021 than they did in 2020, prior to the season’s shutdown. No team’s played more than the Senators, and that’s created some crazy counting stats that has them leading the nation in several categories on both sides of the ball – but they’re averages back it up.

They have three hitters, slugging at rates over .700, including freshman 1B Alberto Osuna (Mauldin, SC), who’s slugging .864, the highest among the players at the DI World Series. Osuna’s hitting .452 in 65 games this spring, with 102 RBIs, which leads the country, and many of those came from his 24 home runs, which was the third-most in the nation – his 191 total bases was the most in the NJCAA DI. After Osuna, freshman INF Caleb McNeely (Woodford County, KY) and sophomore INF Jerry Hammons (Farragut, TN) are the other two .700-plus sluggers. McNeely has 17 homers and is reaching base at a .474 clip, while Hammons trails Osuna by a single homer for the team lead, while leading the team with 23 doubles. Freshman C/OF Cam Fisher (Hardin Valley, TN) is a highly productive energizer, with a team-high 20 steals, in addition to 22 doubles, 12 homers, and 61 RBIs. C Matthew Ellis (Shelby County, KY) is yet another impactful bat to note, as he is slugging .655 this season with 16 homers and a team-high 46 walks.

Eight arms on this staff have registered 30-plus innings pitched this year, spreading the wealth and success. LHP Kohl Drake (Wylie, TX; sophomore) leads the team with 99 Ks in 67.2 innings. Freshman RHP Jake Knapp (Walter Hines, NC) has also been one of the team’s most relied-on arms, with 55 innings pitched and 64 Ks.

NO. 8 MIAMI DADE VS. NO. 3 SAN JACINTO-NORTH

+ No. 8 Miami Dade (FL) (36-17; South Atlantic Champion): The Sharks got a huge effort from some key contributors while a couple of their best players were down injured. Sophomore INF Erick Orbeta (Southwest Miami, FL) was 9-for-19 in the Florida JUCO state tourney, and his clutch work offensively allowed for MDC to grind their way through an extra-inning win over Northwest Florida State and their World Series clincher against Santa Fe in Lakeland.

And while Orbeta came up clutch, C Nicholas Pitelli’s (Doral Academy, FL; sophomore) work in the tournament proved huge. He drove in three of the Sharks’ four runs in their tight win over Northwest Florida State, aided by two solo home runs. The team is hoping to have back OF Ian Jenkins (Collins Hills, GA; sophomore) for the World Series, as he left the lineup leading the team with six homers – and still the leader. INF Henry Wallen (South Dade, FL; sophomore), a Miami recruit, may also be back in time to jumpstart MDC against their heavyweight opponents on Saturday.

RHP Jose Pichardo (Dominican Republic; sophomore) has been one of the staff’s best arms of late, especially, dodging barrels throughout the state tournament, where he did not allow a run in his 10 innings of work, with 11 Ks.

+ No. 3 San Jacinto-North (TX) (48-13; Mid-South Champion): Armed with one of the most effective rotations at the World Series, the Gators have high hopes in their 22nd World Series appearance, in search of their sixth title.

Freshman LHP Thomas Burbank (Kelly, TX) has allowed just 15 earned runs in 71.2 innings this year, translating to a 1.88 ERA that’s credited him with a 12-0 record in 15 appearances. Fellow freshman southpaw Hunter Hollan (Spring Hill, TX) leads the team with 95 Ks in 66 innings, attached to an ERA of 2.59. Freshman reliever RHP Lex Garcia (Monterrey, TX) is an impact high-leverage arm with 58 Ks in 44.1 innings this spring. 

Offensively, two-way talent Mason Auer (Kickapoo, MO; freshman) has been the team’s most productive hitter, with a .370 average while slugging over .600, with nine homers and a team-high 51 RBIs and 31 stolen bases. Freshman INF Sabin Ceballos (Puerto Rico) trails closely behind Auer by one homer and RBI each, and he leads the team with 13 doubles.

San Jac is simply a well-balanced team with a history of success that can help push them over the line once again in 2021.

NO. 6 CENTRAL ARIZONA VS. NO. 5 COWLEY

+ No. 6 Central Arizona (AZ) (48-7; West Champion): I think it would come as a big surprise to see Central Arizona as a No. 6 seed in the World Series, after they opened the year as our No. 1-ranked program and started their season on a 31-game win streak. They looked like they found their footing by the team the Region I tournament rolled around, until Yavapai poached the Region title away from them, winning back-to-back games to claim the series. CAC took the hard path from their to get to this point, requiring three straight wins to reach the World Series – but they got the job done, and restarted their offense in the process. A 13-4 win over Western Nebraska set up a rematch with Yavapai, and the Vaqueros combined to outscore Yavapai 37-11 in those two wins to earn this trip to Grand Junction.

They’re led from the mound by ASU recruit RHP Mat Olsen (Florence, AZ; freshman), who has racked up 124 Ks in 81.2 innings this season, sporting an 11-0 record and a sub-1.90 ERA. Those 124 punch-outs are also the fourth most in the country. Grand Canyon commit RHP Hunter Omlid (Hamilton, MT; freshman) has 90 Ks in 84.2 innings, with a 2.98 ERA.

Offensively, INF Dayton Dooney (Poway, CA; sophomore) and OF J.D. McLaughlin (Hamilton, AZ; freshman) are the key hitters to note here; Dooney, a Tennessee commit, is slugging .691 ths spring with nine homers, while McLaughlin leads the team with 12 homers, 59 RBIs, and 30 steals. OF/C Kiko Romero (Del Oro, AZ; freshman) has driven in 53 runs this spring with the help of eight homers as well.

+ No. 5 Cowley (KS) (46-8; Plains Champion): This Nos. 5-6 matchup is set to be one of the most interesting first-round games on the schedule, as Cowley has one of the World Series’ best lineups, top to bottom. They suffered no real scares through their Region and District tournaments, looking fully capable of turning some heads in Grand Junction this weekend.

This offense is hitting .367, fifth best in the nation, with an OBP of .490, third best. Three batters are hitting .390 or higher, all freshmen: OF Janson Reeder (Edmond North, OK), OF Bryce Madron (Blanchard, OK), and INF Michelle Artzberger (Lawton, OK). Reeder’s hitting .410 and slugging .688 with 12 homers and 15 doubles, and that’s produced 76 RBIs. Madron is hitting .401 with 16 steals and 19 doubles. Artzberger has drive in 64 while hitting .390. INF Blake Robertson (Edmond Santa Fe, OK; freshman) has a .525 OBP generated from 54 walks and a .358 batting average, with 19 doubles and six homers.

On the mound, RHP J’Briell Easley (Shawnee, OK; freshman) had a productive enough spring to earn himself a spot inside the MLB Draft League following the season, and he’s K’d 67 batters in 52 innings so far. RHP Grant Adler (Derby, KS) leads the team with 58.1 innings pitched and he has a 2.78 ERA over that stretch, with 72 Ks. LHP Miguel Obeso (Dover, OK; sophomore) is a big talent, with 55 Ks in 37.2 innings as another need-to-know member of this staff. Reliever RHP Isaac Stebens (Stillwater, OK; freshman) is their best high-leverage arm, with a 0.78 ERA in 23 innings, and he’s notched five saves this season with 26 Ks and 14 hits allowed.

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